February 16, 2024

Navigating the Digital Age: How Social Media Influences Youth Mental Health

Social media
Image of a cell phone with social media apps

In the age of smartphones and constant connectivity, social media has become an integral part of our lives. While it offers numerous benefits, it is essential to acknowledge its impact on mental health – especially among the youth. In this blog post, we will delve into how social media is influencing the mental well-being of young individuals and offer some insight on how to foster a healthier digital environment. 

Whether we like it or not, social media is a massive part of many adolescents’ lives. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey of roughly 750 thirteen- to seventeen-year-olds found that 45% are online almost constantly. On top of that, 97% reported using a social media platform such as Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. 

The U.S. Surgeon General’s 2023 Social Media and Youth Mental Health advisory outlines the latest scientific evidence regarding social media’s effect on youth mental health. According to data, surveys, and reports they collected, the average time spent on social media for 8th and 10th graders is 3.5 hours per day. Furthermore, one in four spends more than five hours per day on social media, and one in seven spends more than seven hours a day on social media. 

Adverse Effects of Social Media on Mental Health and Well-Being

The research on the negative impacts of social media on mental health is alarming. Numerous studies highlight that higher levels of social media use among children and adolescents are linked to adverse side effects such as depression and anxiety, inadequate sleep, low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorder behaviors, and online harassment. 

Some of the more serious adverse effects of social media on youth include:

  • Comparison Culture. One of the most significant challenges social media poses is the emergence of a pervasive “comparison culture.” Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are often filled with carefully curated content showcasing seemingly perfect lives. This constant exposure can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and depression among young users who may believe they don’t measure up. 
  • Cyberbullying and Online Harassment. Unfortunately, social media can also be a breeding ground for cyberbullying and online harassment. The anonymity afforded by the digital age can encourage individuals to engage in hurtful behavior they might not otherwise exhibit in person. For many young people, these negative experiences can have a lasting impact on their mental health, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation. A 2018 study from the Pew Research Center found that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced abusive online behaviors, with the most common being name-calling. According to the study, 42% of teens have experienced name-calling online. 
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). The Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, is a phenomenon exacerbated by social media. Seeing friends and peers engaging in activities or events without them can lead to feelings of exclusion and loneliness. This constant pressure to be in the know and participate in every social event can create feelings of overwhelm and anxiety for young individuals. 
  • Validation-Seeking Behavior. Pursuing likes, comments, and followers can become an addictive cycle for many young social media users. Seeking validation through digital metrics can lead to a dependency on external approval, potentially compromising one’s self-worth and mental well-being. 
  • Filtered Realities. Social media often presents a filtered version of reality. People tend to share the highlights of their lives, creating an unrealistic portrayal of what everyday life looks like. For young users, this can distort their perception of normalcy and contribute to feelings of dissatisfaction with their own lives. 
  • Loneliness. A global study – titled “Worldwide Increases in Adolescent Loneliness” – found school loneliness correlated with increases in smartphone and Internet use. When countries reached a point where half of the teen population had access to smartphones, loneliness levels began to rise. 

Social Media Benefits

While there are many drawbacks and negative impacts of social media on youth today, that is not to say that there are no benefits or pros involved. For one, social media allows teens to create online identities, communicate with others, and build social networks. These social networks can support some teens – particularly those who have experienced exclusion or have disabilities or a chronic illness. Additionally, teens can also use social media for entertainment and self-expression. All the various platforms can expose teens to current events, allow them to interact across geographic barriers, and teach them about different subjects. 

Fostering a Healthier Digital Environment

While the impact of social media on youth mental health is clearly outlined, the fact remains that social media remains a ubiquitous aspect of life for youth today. It is here to stay and will continue to be used whether adults like it or not. Keeping youth entirely off social media altogether is not a realistic goal. The key is to support youth today in developing healthier social media behaviors to help mitigate its adverse effects. 

Some steps to take to help foster a healthier digital environment include:

  • Digital Detox. Encourage periodic breaks from social media to allow for genuine human connections and time away from the screen.
  • Promote Open Conversations. Encourage young individuals to talk openly about their experiences on social media, fostering a supportive environment where they can share their feelings and concerns.
  • Educate on Digital Literacy. Teach critical thinking skills to discern between curated content and reality, helping young users better navigate the online world. 
  • Limit Screen Time. Encourage healthy screen time limits and promote activities that nurture physical, emotional, and social well-being.
  • Help Explain What is not Okay. Discourage your teen from gossiping, spreading rumors, and bullying – on and offline.
  • Promote Face-to-Face Interactions. Social media is no substitute for face-to-face interactions with friends and peers. It is critical that youth interact in person and not just online. 
  • Seek Professional Help. If a young person is struggling with their mental health or experiencing anxiety or depression related to social media use, it is crucial to seek professional support from therapists, counselors, or other mental health experts. 

While social media does offer invaluable benefits, it is crucial to recognize its impact on the mental health of youth today. By fostering a balanced digital environment and providing the necessary support, we can empower them to navigate the digital world with resilience and a strong sense of self. Turning social media into a tool for connection and empowerment rather than a source of distress is critical in today’s day and age. However, the drawbacks and negative impacts of social media will undoubtedly continue to impact youth as technology continues to progress. So, it is of the utmost importance if an adolescent is struggling with their mental health due to social media use to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor.

North End Wellness offers therapy practices specific and catered to children and teens. Our experienced therapists assist them by using therapy techniques they can relate to as they are going through physical, emotional, and social changes. With extensive training in working with teens, therapists at North End Wellness are equipped to help teens develop healthy and productive habits. 



Contact North End Wellness today to start on your journey towards creating your best life.